Photographs and Text by Yosei Minagoshi
Poplar, June, 2004
Price: 1260 yen
|Children, especially the very young,
love to talk about poo. They're probably delighted by the shocked
reaction of those around them when they mention the taboo subject.
Although that certainly isn't the theme of this book, there's plenty of
poop in this photographic book for all ages. My children go so far as
to call this the Poop Book. It's a picture book on earthworms that
happens to be full of poop photos. Worms are a perfectly mundane
species of soil animals, and yet this scientific picture book
introduces us to scenes from the earthworm world that we'd normally
never see with the naked eye.
A rare view of the worm is shown on the eye-catching cover. Without the title, I probably wouldn't have been able to identify this interesting beast. This cover shows a huge close-up of a worm with a small twig in its mouth. "Wow! Is that really a worm?!", my children and I both exclaim. We "know" that worms eat, but I doubt many people have actually watched a worm busily chewing away. A picture of a worm with its mouth wide open is hardly recognizable as such. It's facinating to watch this very small creature's dining habits, and the kids can't seem to help yelling out time and time again, "Hey, look at that! See what else it's eating!" as we turn the pages, making for a very exuberant reading time. The mystery and fascination of worms increases with each photo. For example, the egg-laying scenes are truly awe-inspiring. With large close-ups of the worm, the text carefully explains where the head is and where the eggs are. Readers will sympathize with the worm's tremendous efforts as it inches the egg ring (!) slowly downward and finally off its body. In the end, we wind up with a donut-shaped egg. "Amazing!" Both the children and I share in the wonder of it all.
Now you'll recall that naughty "P" word I mentioned at the beginning of this review, but as a matter of fact, worm wastes appears on almost every page of this book. When you see the scene showing the worm closing up the entrance to its nest with poop, you'll understand what a vital role it plays in the life of an earthworm. They eat and poop, then poop to eat some more. Adults try to understand the reasons behind this process intellectually. Worms help to fertilize the soil, making it rich for growing things in. But children just absorb it all wholly, as is. As the kids watch waste being produced, including close-up shots where the whole picture is literally worm poop, they'll never tire of staring and saying, "Ooooh, it's poop! Here's some more. And this one too!". Looking through the different photos you may recall having seen a pile of soil and now suddenly realizing what it was. With page after page of worms eating and pooping, it all starts looking so nice and fluffy and almost appetizing...NOT. Still, the book does develop an interest in earthworms and I couldn't help hoping that one day, I'd catch sight of a worm laying its egg. My children simply can't wait for the snow to melt so that they can go outside and find lots of worm poop!
Born in 1943. Nature photographer. Minagoshi Yosei specializes in photographing soil organisms and his photos have achieved high acclaim. He often conducts slide and talk shows in various parts of Japan, turning his interests into a active movement for more understanding towards soil organisms. He's also published two other photographic picture books. "OCHIBANOSHITA WO NOZOITE MITARA" [If You Look Under a Pile of Leaves...] and "DANGOMUSHI MITSUKETAYO" [Look! I've Found a Pillbug!] (Both from Poplar).
|SHIBA-WANKO NO WA NO KOKORO
[Japanese Etiquette and "Wa"-style Living with Shiba-wanko]
Created by Yoshie Kawaura
Shiba-wanko, a Shiba-inu dog, and Miike-nyanko, a calico cat, live together in a classic Japanese-style house with the traditional Japanese alcove called a tokonoma . Shiba-wanko is a very gentle and hardworking soul who does all of the cleaning, laundry and cooking in the house. Miike-nyanko is a different type all together, being rather temperamental and not very good with housework. Together, these two learn the manners and customs associated with events such as the proper Japanese way to treat one's guests, preparing for a Japanese New Year and how to enjoy the kimono, the traditional Japanese costume. Each chapter covers a specific topic which has to do with living in "Wa" (the Japanese-style spirit of peace and harmony) throughout the changing seasons.
These tales are full of practical knowledge yet are entertaining, telling of these animals and the people they meet in the course of their lives. A newspaper boy comes to their house to collect payment, but Shiba-wanko treats him like an important guest. So they become good friends. When he's feeling down with a broken heart during the cherry-blossom season, Shiba-wanko invites him to go flower-viewing with her. As he sits under the beautiful blossoms taking part in a Japanese Tea Ceremony, he suddenly realizes his heartache is cured. Sachiko-san, the newspaper boy's grandmother, is a stylish old woman who wears kimonos gracefully and is quite knowlegeable about Kabuki and traditional Japanese patterns. She becomes Shiba-wanko's mentor in these matters. On New Year's Eve, they order Toshikoshi (year-crossing) soba (noodles) from a soba-shop. Shiba-wanko offer the soba-shop owner a cup of tea when he makes his delivery, and they become good friends too. This soba-shop owner has a pair of first-grade twins, a boy and a girl, but for some reason is single. We later learn he has a girlfriend named Yuki-chan. Watching them during the Tanabata and O-bon festivals, we see their love deepen and also worry about the newspaper boy who keeps being thwarted in love time and time again.
The author, Yoshie Kawaura, wanted to avoid writing a typical manners book with the harsh, "You'll be embarrassed if you don't know!" approach, and decided to use animal protagonists. She'd always adored shiba-inu dogs and had been living with a calico cat for many years. These two are depicted in such a vivid and charming way, that you almost can't resist picking up this book. The meticulous illustrations are drawn in great detail. Not just the cherry blossom and Japanese maple scenery, but also the designs on the kimonos, a broom and down to even the smallest items such as the tea cups. The drawings are simply so beautiful you'll want to take your time poring over them.
These three volumes are comprised of installments from a popular story serialized in the MOE magazine (a monthly magazine on illustration and popular culture) since the August, 2000 issue. An ongoing series, there should be a fourth volume released in which we'll learn more about what's been going on in the romance between the soba shop-owner and Yuki-chan. No doubt there are many people who would like to live a fulfilling and peaceful life like Shibawanko's, undisturbed by the hustle and bustle of modern life and unhampered by worldly concerns.
Yoshie Kawaura is a native of Tokyo who was born in 1963. Before starting this series, she used to design calendars and stationary goods. The author brought her illustrations in to the editorial department at MOE in the hopes of getting them published, and wound up doing this SHIBAWANKO NO KOKORO series. A picture book/music CD of popular children's songs which features these characters was published on March 4, 2005.
Text by Hiroshi Saito
Drawings by Jun Takabatake
Kodansha, Price: 1155 yen
|"Heave ho! Heave ho!"
The rowing cadence rings out and along come the penguins on their canoe. The leader of the expedition stands at the head of the group, followed by the second-in-command, the third-in-command and then all the other penguins. A total of fifty birds in all!
They dock their canoe at the shore of a southern island and the penguins get in one straight line to march right into the jungle. A lion suddenly jumps out at them from behind a tree and roars at them. A huge python and an alligator threaten them. But these penguins are hardly the type of birds to fly away in the face of danger... No, they very matter-of-factly announce, "We're... the Penguin Expedition Team.", and then march right along their way. The lion and other wild beasts are so used to being feared that they're dumbfounded by the penguins' lack of fear. And just what have the penguins come to "explore" anyway?! The lion, python and alligator are curious to find out and decide to follow the penguins to solve this mystery...
Thanks to Saito's fabulous flair for storytelling, the reader's expectations are thwarted time and again, making for a truly unpredictable and entertaining read. Contrary to our beliefs that penguins are much weaker than lions, the penguins don't even turn a "feather" when the lion rushes out roaring at them. With their extreme nonchalance and happy-go-lucky natures, they confuse the ferocious beasts. Unexpected twists in the tale keep you so glued to the book that you're bound to finish it in one sitting.
This book is unmissable even for Takabatake's humorous animal drawings alone. Without being intrusive, Takabatake's illustrations do much to add to the appeal of Saito's text. There's an illustration which shows the three dangerous beasts chasing after the penguins who are trudging up a hill, or an eloquent back view of the sitting lion on the final page of the book. These are two which you'll definitely want to see.
These books were initially written for first-graders and early readers who are just starting to read longer stories for the first time. But the humor and nonsense in the text and illustrations have made the series popular with readers of all ages. There are presently seven books in the "Penguin" series and in each volume, the penguins take on a new "round of duty". A new book is due to be released in autumn, 2005 and we're all looking forward to seeing what profession the penguins are going to try their hand at next.
A translated version of the first five books is presently available in Taiwan.
Saito is a native of Tokyo and was born in 1952. Presently, he's professor in German Literature at the department of Business Administration at Asia University. In 1986 he won the Kodansha Children's New Author Award with "RUDOLPH TO IPPAIATTENA" [Rudolph and Ippaiattena] (Kodansha). Since that time, he's consistently written many best-selling children's books. Just to mention a few from Saito's vast body of work, his books include the "SEIG" [Seig] (Kaisei-sha), "NANJA HINATAMARU" [Nanja the Ninja-in-training, Hinatamaru] (Akane Shobo) and "SHIRAKOMAKI" [White Fox Magic] (Kaisei-sha) series.
He was born in 1948 in Nagoya. Presently a professor at Tokai Women's University, he won the Graphics Award at Bologna Children's Book Fair for "DARENOJITENSHA" [Who's Bike is it?] (Froebel-kan) in 1983. He's created many picture books including, "ASOBO ASOBO"[C'mon, Let's Play!] (Kodansha) "DOKKIDOKI"[Thumpety Thump] (Froebel), "DAJAREDOUBUTSUEN"[A Zooful of Puns] (text: Hirotaka Nakagawa, Ehon-kan). Recently, he won the 9th Japan Picture Book Award for "OH SUPPA"[Oh Sour!] (text: Tamio Koshino, Kodansha).
|"JUU-YONHIKI NO" Series
"14 Mice" Series
by Kazuo Iwamura
translated by MaryLee Knowlton
(Gareth Stevens Children's Books)
Doshinsha, 1260 yen
The "14 forest mice" series is a long-selling favorite which follows the life and times of a large mouse family through the seasons of the year as they live amidst nature in the woods. In addition to Japan, these books have been published internationally in countries such as France, Germany and Taiwan. It's a very popular series which is loved and cherished by children around the world.
The story revolves around the doings of a big family of 14 mice which spans three generations. On the title page of each book are these words,
Grandpa and Grandma,
and ten little children.
Altogether we are
a big happy family of 14 mice
Every time I open these books and see these lines, I'm filled with a good warm feeling that spreads out from my heart. It's comforting and somehow oddly familiar to bask in the warmth of a large family, even for someone like me who grew up in a nuclear family. There's a wise and kind old grandfather and grandmother, a hard-working father and mother and ten bright and lively young children. However, I've never heard this family setting criticized as being too stereotypic. In the book, each mouse is an individual creature with a clear life of its own. The smallest gesture or expression tells us of the deep and genuine love that binds this family together.
The author, Kazuo Iwamura says that one of the main tasks he set himself was to draw each of these 14 characters as distinct individuals. Looking carefully at the personalities that each character ought to have, he repeatedly tried out sketches until he felt he'd developed a true bond with them. Iwamura felt it his responsibility to ensure that every member of the fourteen, particularly the ten children, should play equally active roles in the stories. Iwamura is like a parent. He says, "I have to make sure everyone gets called on at least once in a story or she'll be hurt" or, "If one of them winds up playing only a minor role, it pains me to imagine him off in some corner drooping over it."
I'll have to make sure everyone gets an equal showing as I introduce you to the ten children. Ikkun is the dependable and sturdy eldest son. Nikkun is a gentle boy, but sometimes like to play the clown. Sacchan is a bit like a little mother herself. Yocchan uses very feminine gestures. Goukun is slightly wild and very active. Rokkun is silly and a bit fearful, while Nacchan is the tomboy. Nacchan and Goukun tend to fight a lot, but they're always together so they probably like each other best. Hakkun is light on his feet and very nimble. Kunchan is the one who always carries her little mouse doll around so preciously, and apparently one of the most popular characters among readers. And still very young is the baby of the family, Tokkun. He's cute no matter what he does.
In the story, the animals are humanized and live the way people do, but actually, these mice are modelled after the small Japanese field mice (Apodemus Argenteus) which live in the woods of Japan. Because the perspective is that of a tiny thumb-sized mouse, Iwamura had to "crawl around on my stomach" to look at the wild flowers and grasses of the meadows. The plants, insects and small animals are beautifully drawn down to the last detail. Nature, as seen from a mouse point of view, is rich and full of new surprises. Iwamura moved to a wooded area in the northern Kanto region about eight years before he wrote the first book in this series. He firmly wished to actualize and live out his boyhood memory scenes of spending time in the woods of Suginami, Tokyo. So he moved into the woods and spent hours upon hours making observations and sketches to create and breathe life into his images. The most recent volume in this series, "14 HIKI NO TOMBO-IKE" [The 14 Mice and the Dragonfly Pond] was born after three whole years spent observing a single pond.
Through these picture books, I can share in the experiences, play in the fields, enjoy nature at it changes and partake of the fruits of the seasons together with the 14 mice. There, are the smiles of a happy family, the warmth of a shared meal and the comfort of a gentle lullaby. Somehow, I can't seem to stop the soft sigh of satisfaction that escapes from my lips every time I close the cover of one of these books.
Iwamura was born in Tokyo in 1939 and graduated from the Craft Department at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Faculty of Fine Arts. He presently lives in Tochigi Prefeture. After working as a package designer and in TV animation, he began creating picture books. "HITORIBOCCHI NO SAISHU RESSHA" [The Last Train, All Alone] (Kaisei-sha) won the Sankei Children's Book Award, "KANGAERU KAERUKUN" [A Frog in Reflection] (Fukuinkan Shoten) won the Kodansha Prize for Picture Books, "KORISU NO SIREEZU" [The Little Squirrel Series] (Shiko-sha) is also very popular. In the U.S., Iwamura has published, "WHERE ARE YOU GOING? TO SEE MY FRIEND!" in collaboration with Eric Carle. He's also illustrated novels that include the "TOGARI-YAMA NO BOKEN" [Adventures of Cone-shaped Hill] series (Riron-sha) and written a colleciton of essays called "14 HIKI NO ATELIER KARA" [From the Studio of the 14 Mice] (Doshin-sha). Since 1998, he's created and manages a field museum called IWAMURA KAZUO EHON NO OKA BIJUTSUKAN [Kazuo Iwamura's Picture Book Hill Art Museum] so that children can actually experience the wild for themselves.
Iwamura Kazuo Ehon-no-oka Art Museum
Photographs by Akira Sato
Text by Kyoko Toda
Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, November 10, 1994
ISBN 4-8340-1269-7, Price: 1575 yen
Translated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 1996
ISBN: 0-916291-62-6, Price: $8.95
|When my son and I read this book
always make up questions to ask each other.
"Whew, Yaaawwn. Who's the sleepy head?"
"Deep in thought with a hand (paw) on his chin. Who can it be?"
"I'm lonely and feeling blue. Which one am I?"
"Wa Ha Ha. Who's the one belly laughing?"
The answers to these questions can all be found inside this book. The questions refer to the pictures on the gorilla, otter, kangaroo and wolf pages of this book, respectively.
This photographic picture book introduces the reader to pictures of 24 different mammal species. Each two-page spread shows 21 animals from the same species. These pictures were taken at zoos throughout Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, shot from the places where people ordinarily stand to look at the animals. All of the animals are looking straight at us and appear to be talking to us, "Hey, let's be buddies" or "I could sure use a friendly ear".
When I first read this book, I was first impressed by the fact that all animals have very individual faces just as people do. I was as happy as if I'd gotten a huge present to realize this. The famous artist and writer, Genpei Akasegawa, uses very apt language to express similar feelings on this book's obi (a promotional blurb which wraps around the bottom half of the book cover). "Humans tend to think a gorilla is just a gorilla, but I was surprised to find that every gorilla is totally unique. And a camel is never just another camel..."
This book attempts to reveal the true appeal of zoos beyond merely "seeing the animals". The photographer Akira Sato and writer, Kyoko Toda are said to have visited zoos around Japan a total of 3000 times in order to create this book. In the short texts that accompany each animal species, one can sense Toda's love clearly deepened by the many miles she had to trudge to see these creatures. These words overflow with understanding towards all those who love zoos, regardless of age or gender. At the very back of the book is a list of the many institutions where these photos were taken, as "Zoos where you can see these Animal Faces". The list includes address and phone numbers but I was saddened to see that not a few had closed within the ten years since this book was published.
Quite a long time ago, when I was still in college, one of our professors asked us what we would photograph if we could spend the whole day at the zoo with a camera in hand. Of course we students all answered the obvious, "A hippo", "The monkey hill" and so forth. But our professor said, "Well, if it was me, I'd photograph the people who'd come to see the animals". As I read "ANIMAL FACES", I couldn't help being reminded of my teacher's words. If we could take pictures of people as they look through this book, grinning, amazed, or wreathed in smiles at the cuteness of the animals, just think of what fantastic shots we'd get...
Photographer. A graduate of Meiji Gakuin University and Tokyo College of Photography, he was such a firm lover of animals that he used to make regular visits to the zoo even during his college years. Among his books are: "DOUBUTSUEN NO DOUBUTSU" [Animals of the Zoo] (Yama-kei Publishers) and "TASUKETE" [Help!] (Doshin-sha). He's also published several other books in collaboration with Kyoko Toda such as "KONNICHIWA DOUBUTSUTACHI" [Hi Animals] (Fukuinkan Shoten), "DOUBUTSUEN GA DAISUKI" (Shincho-sha/Tombo books) and "DOUBUTSU AIDORU ZUKAN" [Encyclopedia of Celebrity Animals] (Sekai Bunka Publishers).
She was born in Tokyo and after some time as a children's book editor, she became a freelance writer. As of 1971 she's been traveling around the world, particuarly in Southeast Asia and writing books about her experiences. This includes "SEKAI ICHI NO NICHIJOSHOKU THAI RYORI" [The World's Best Food: Thai Cooking](Shobun-sha). She's also collaborated with Akira Sato on "THAI TANOSHIMI ZUKAN" [Encyclopedia to Enjoy Things Thai] (Shincho-sha/Tombo books) and "THAI RYORI NO GOHAN DESU YO" [Thai Cooking: Time for Dinner!] (Shobun-sha).
|"USHIRO NI IRU NO DAARE"
BY TOSHIO FUKUDA
Shinpusya, Price: 1470 yen
WHO'S BEHIND ME?
By TOSHIO FUKUDA
Translated by Mia Lynn Perry
R.I.C. Publications, Price: 2520 yen
The pictures are simple and so is the text. And yet it's not all that simple. There's something very special about these books that children enjoy, and is quietly comforting to adults.
As the title "WHO'S BEHIND ME" suggests, there's always part of an animal showing at the edge of a spread, and you'll want to turn page after page, trying to guess which animal you'll see. A tail, a beak, a horn, a fur pattern or colorful feathers...these hints make it quite easy to tell who's next, but when you turn the page and see the exact animal you expected, it's still quite delightful. And at the end of the book, you're likely to laugh at the whole result and want go back to the beginning to see if you can figure it all out on your own. All of the books in this series follow the same pattern, but you'll still be quite impressed with the final spreads.
Toshio Fukuda got the idea for this book when he was drawing animals from some photographs. The lightbulb moment came when Fukuda saw a dog looking back over his shoulder in one of the photos. The first book was quite a hit so he came out with the second and third books. In these latter two, he's added a little twist (?) to the story which isn't in the first book.
Even very small children have no trouble understanding stories where the same short phrase is repeated time and time again. This guessing game of what animal comes next greatly enrichens the child's reading experience, whether she or he is reading alone or with help. But that's not all. From this deceptively simple story, one can sense that all life is interconnected, and how wonderful it is to share your world with other beings. All of this and more add to the tale and enables deeper readings of this book.
Fukuda's drawings capture the essential characteristics of each species and yet uses soft-hued tones to avoid becoming too cutesy-cutesy. The animals come to life on a perfectly white background, bearing expressions that go beyond just "adorable". Toshio Fukuda drew the sketches and thought up the design of the book, while his wife, another artist, took responsibility for selecting the colors. This collaboration between a perfectly-matched pair reflects the very theme of this series.
This picture book drew particular acclaim as a favorite of Princess Aiko's, daughter of Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito. The first book was translated into English by Mia Lynn Perry and recently published in March, 2005. This delightful picture book can be enjoyed by all people of all ages, having both simplicity and profundity to recommend it. I am sure it will cross national and cultural borders to be loved by people everywhere.
Born in Sakai City of Osaka Prefecture in 1971, he graduated with a degree from the Crafts Department at Osaka University of Arts. In 1998, he went to France to further his artistic activities. After returning to Japan the following year, he moved his studio to Tokyo and has continued to create picture books, paintings and three-dimensional art forms. He's presently working on numerous projects and also conducts an art course open to all, regardless of age or gender.
Fukuda Toshio's official website
| Animal stories have always
been an important part of the literature available for children. Japan
also has a fare rich in both variety and content. The books in this
issue give us a view into how the Japanese view the various life forms
with which we share this planet. Fortunately, many of the books we've
covered in this issue have already been translated or are due to be
released in English in the near future. We hope you'll have a chance to
see and enjoy the books for yourselves.
Ihara (Yamaneko Honyaku Club, Chairperson)
Honyaku Club, Staff and Members
Ikegami, Kuriko Mori
Hayashi, Yumi Kikuchi,
Reiko Lee, Emi Sugimoto,
May Takahashi, Chiyoko Yoshii
Sendai, Literary Translation Network, Webmaster
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